Iranian Musical Culture in Central Asian Environment

Studies about classical Persian music (sonnati) and even about the diverse regional musics of Iran (mahalli) are quite numerous,  It seems, however that what is still lacking is a general view that sheds light on the place of Persian music in time and space.

This article attempts to look at Iranian music by borrowing from comparative literature, anthropology and ethno-linguistics. It examines Persian musical culture in the mirror of the neighboring cultures in order to discover what makes its specificity, what these cultures have in common, and how they differ from each other. Beyond mere erudition and the intellectual satisfaction that may reside in sketching out a model, the purpose is to raise some deeper aesthetic questions. By understanding what the others do, or what their ancestors were doing, the artist can open new ways. One of the typical traits of Iranian musicians is that they are always looking for innovation, but they do not go beyond the borders of Iran. Their approach is always endogenous: they search their inspiration in their own folklore rather than study the system of their neighbor’s art music, contemporary systems that are close to those used in Iran a few centuries.

In the popular domain, mainly in the Tajik culture, we find many similarities with the musics of Iran: same modes, same rhythms, same melodic shape and style. In Bukhara, a remarkable entertainment repertoire, probably from Khorasani origin, has been preserved by the Iranian community. But for someone steeped in Persian musical culture, it is the nomadic musical culture that clearly reveals the distance between Iran-Turan on one side and the nomadic Turkic world on the other. The contrast between nomadic and sedentary music is striking of course, but looking more closely one begins to see how they exchanged with and enriched each other over the years, and what are their common bases. One can only compare what is comparable. We have done it briefly with learned musics of Iran and Transoxiana. It is also possible to compare the popular and learned music of a given culture, and it is even possible to find analogies between the rural cultures of Inner Asia and the nomadic ones. But if we approach the nomadic world with reference to classical Middle Eastern or Transoxian music, we will be faced with pure difference.

Jean During
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